Weeki Wachee Springs, an Outstanding Florida Spring (OFS), is currently impaired by nitrates, with nitrate levels steadily increasing over the years. To address this issue, the State enacted the Springs and Aquifer Protection Act in 2016, setting goals for restoring the OFS within 20 years. In 2018, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection established a Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) to tackle the rising nitrate levels and identify major sources of nitrogen contributing to the spring. According to the BMAP, urban turf fertilizers account for 22% of the nitrogen affecting the spring. In light of these developments, the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners passed the following amendments to the existing fertilizer ordinance.
Changes to the Fertilizer Ordinance:
The County staff developed an ordinance that amends the current County code governing the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus. The following notable changes have been implemented:
1. Expanded Seasonal Restrictions:
• Prohibition of urban turf fertilizers containing nitrogen from December 15 to March 15 and from June 1 to September 30.
• This extension aims to further reduce nitrogen runoff during critical periods, contributing to the restoration of Weeki Wachee Springs.
2. Removal of Exemption for Commercial Applicators:
• Previously, commercial applicators were exempt from certain provisions of the fertilizer ordinance. This exemption has been removed.
• This change ensures that commercial applicators are held to the same standards as other stakeholders, promoting responsible fertilizer application practices across the board.
3. Increased Distance for Fertilizer Use Adjacent to Wetlands and Surface Waters:
• The updated amendments increased the distance from wetlands and surface waters where fertilizers can be applied, from the previous 10 feet to 25 feet.
• This expansion aims to create a wider buffer zone, further reducing the potential for nutrient runoff and protecting water quality.
4. Requirement for Posting County-Provided Signage:
• Businesses that sell fertilizers during the restriction period would be obligated to display signage provided by the County, stating the seasonal restrictions.
• This provision helps raise awareness among the public and promotes compliance with the revised fertilizer ordinance.
As Weeki Wachee Springs faces the challenge of increasing nitrate levels, the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners recognized the need for revised regulations to protect this Outstanding Florida Spring. By amending the existing fertilizer ordinance, the County aims to make significant strides in reducing nitrogen runoff and restoring the health of the spring. These changes, including expanded seasonal restrictions, removal of the commercial applicator exemption, increased buffer zones, and signage requirements, collectively contribute to a comprehensive strategy for safeguarding Weeki Wachee Springs. By implementing these amendments, Hernando County is taking proactive steps towards preserving the environment and ensuring a sustainable future for its water resources.